Ode to Barcodes - or why capture is always better with barcodes

By Daniel O'Leary posted 08-12-2010 10:46



Barcodes. You know them. You love them. You find them everywhere from the side of your box of Kashi Go Lean to document slip sheets; but have you ever stopped to wonder what all those goofy lines and digital scribble mean? And, how do they work anyway?

And most importantly, how do barcodes apply to document capture?  Well, let's dive right in.

My favorite is the undisputed champion of them all: PDF 417. Oh yes, the Incredible Hulk of barcodes. But without the emo alter-ego.

The PDF 417 is two dimensions of awesomeness, and you've probably seen this on things like a boarding pass or Fed Ex Label. Why am I so in love with it? Simple: you can pack a TON of information into the PDF 417 barcode. A single PDF 417 symbol can theoretically hold up to 1,850 alphanumeric characters, 2,710 digits or 1,108 bytes. Why so much data? Because it's absolutely perfect for encoding all of the metadata in a document for example. Data like your name, e-mail address, city, state, and postal code can all be encoded into a single barcode.  

We use PDF 417 barcodes at LincWare quite a bit. When we generate electronic forms, typically the metadata from the form is automatically sent to a repository but sometimes paper or additional electronic copies must be created. Examples of this are documents that require stamped notarization like a court order or documents that are transmitted to other organizations. Imagine a police report with a PDF 417 barcode on it that contains all of the report data, or a new account form at a financial planner's office with your name, address and phone number.

We place all of that information discretely on the document, like in the top right corner, and encode it into a PDF 417 barcode. When you transmit documents with information already encoded in a barcode, it makes the process much easier for the receiving party to process and use.

When you scan or process a barcoded document, you then set up an auto-detect or draw the zone of where a barcode is likely to be. When you scan it, the data will be there as a separated value for you to use and process. Virtually all of the capture vendors in the community support it, but it's up to you to create documents with barcodes already on them.

You are a nice person right? You like helping others? Helped a bank executive from Africa cash a few checks via e-mail? Good, then slap some barcodes on your forms and documents. Or better yet, create eForms with dynamic barcodes on them. Oh, and don't make any more paper.

To actually show you this concept, I built a form that will take your name and e-mail address, and automatically encode them into a barcode on a document for you. Go make yourself a barcode! 

So AIIM Community members, do you also love barcodes? Do you have "Mom" embedded in barcode tattoo? If you are capturing and processing barcodes, I would love to hear your feedback.

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